Each year waterfowl hunters everywhere pack their truck with hunting gear and pull onto the highways to head for a dream hunt or to meet friends in a duck camp. And just before the drive begins, these hunters sometimes suddenly remember to drop the tailgate to let their trusty hunting dogs load up. They hurriedly collect some dog food and perhaps a training collar, and that’s as far as some hunters go in preparing their best friend for the hunt — or for emergencies. That’s a bad decision fraught with possible disasters.
Yes, many waterfowl hunts for hunters and dogs go off without a hitch. The few that require emergency veterinary attention and other assistance, however, often become nightmares that any hunter will not soon forget. But there are ways to avoid the problems, and to create a safe hunting environment for your dog and to put less stress on you and your wallet. Preparation is the first step to successfully overcoming any emergency on a road trip.
When you’re in a remote area, hunting in another state, or hunting early or late hours when most businesses (including animal hospitals) are closed, any accident involving your hunting dog can rapidly escalate into a near-death or deadly event. Whether it involves being accidentally shot to being injured by a boat motor or vehicle, there’s no time to waste. An hour delay could mean death or permanent disability. Your dog is in trouble — quick, what will you do?
For the standard emergencies, a first-aid kit is the essential first step. You can buy or build your own canine first-aid kit. Gauze, cleaning solutions, bandages and wraps, some useful medicines and other basic medical aids can be obtained at most neighborhood pharmacies. Take a walk down the medical supply aisles and you’ll spot some items that will be very useful when your dog has a medical emergency. It’s also important to consult with your veterinarian about digestible medicines to stock. Some human-oriented foods and drugs can be given to a dog, but if you don’t know for sure, keep it away from him.
While you’re talking with your local veterinary, ask for a printed copy of your dog’s immunizations and medical history. You can also quickly do an Internet search and find veterinary offices and animal emergency hospitals at or near locations you’ll visit on your hunt. Be sure to print maps, office hours and any listed emergency numbers before you depart on your trip and pack these in the canine first aid kit.
Thanks to the Internet, it is also now easy to locate kennels, hotels and lodges that accept pets and will welcome your hunting dog. Make any calls and secure boarding and lodging arrangements before you leave the driveway. Print directions and contact details for several locations in case your best plans don’t work out. Don’t rely solely on Web sites for full details —call the motels and lodges where you plan to stay. It’s important to note that at some locations your dog(s) can stay in the room with you, but at others the dog must be kenneled. For motels that permit pets, ask about restrictions.
When I headed to a hunting trade show recently, a motel referred by the sponsoring group’s Web site indicated it was pet-friendly. Since my two 70-pound Weimaraners were headed to the show, I called and asked questions. It turns out that the motel’s rule limiting the size of dog visitors to 35 pounds would not be bent. My dogs and I lodged elsewhere, but I’m glad I discovered the full details ahead of time. At another motel in Nevada, dogs were welcome. I soon discovered that the dogs, however, were stored in a kennel in the exhaust-filled parking garage area and owners could observe them on the TV set in the room via a camera. The area was not secure, and not clean. My dogs and I again stayed elsewhere.
If you take a kennel or crate and plan to leave any hunting dog in a motel room or the bed of a truck, pack two locks and a coated steel cable to prevent thefts. Lock the kennel door, and the kennel to the truck. Even better for preventing a theft is to place the crate inside a truck bed topper with tinted glass to hide the obvious. Just make sure that about the temperature inside the confined area is tolerable, especially on sunny days. Heat stroke can overtake a dog in minutes.
If your dog will ride in a crate or kennel in the truck’s bed, consider covering that kit during colder weather. One good choice is a cover from Mud River (479-927-2447; www.mudriverdogproducts.com) complete with many pockets for storing dog-related gear. Freezing your dog doesn’t “toughen him up;” it requires him to burn energy to stay warm that he otherwise might put to better purpose while hunting with you. Covered crates also protect dogs from road debris and flying sand or rocks.
If your dog will have to spend a day or night in a commercial kennel, ask for and check references after interviewing the operator. The best kennels now require that you complete forms and deliver (fax or e-mail) records before your arrival. It’s always a good idea to keep your dog’s vaccination records, especially immunization for kennel cough Bordetella bronchiseptic updated. Always carry a copy of the dog’s records in the first-aid kit. Some kennels will not permit dogs without proof of current immunizations, especially rabies.
While you’re back in the motel room, be observant for fleas, crickets and other bugs or spiders. Crickets and some bugs can carry diseases that can quickly make your dog ill. Some places spray and keep motel rooms clean, and some places don’t. While traveling, dogs seem to always be thirsty — but you should never let your dog drink out of a toilet or trashcan. Keep the bathroom door closed and the toilet seat lid down. Motels are known for using harsh chemicals to battle germs, and those that are unclean could also harbor transmittable diseases. A sick dog will ruin any hunting trip, so take precautions.
Stay tuned for Part II!